Dealing with Embarrassment at Work

bringing spirituality to work emotional health monday blogs Mar 26, 2018

Can you think of a time when you were really embarrassed? I mean the kind of embarrassment that caused your face to flush or your chest to get red. You know, the kind of embarrassment that makes you wish could crawl under a rock? If you are human, your answer is very likely – yes! This blog post is focused on dealing with embarrassment at work. I’d written this a couple of years ago for a friend but it was never published. I happened upon it while looking at another piece of writing…and after the week I’ve had, really needed it. I hope it serves you. If so, please give it a “like” or even better…share it.

What is embarrassment? 

I wanted to understand what is at the root of embarrassment so I spent some time talking to my friends and clients. I spoke to people ranging from 14 to 65 about embarrassment. What I found about embarrassment was universal.

Embarrassment is rooted in fear. It is described in the dictionary as “intense discomfort with one’s self experienced when having a socially unacceptable act or condition witnessed by or revealed to others.”

What are we fearing when we feel embarrassed?

When we are embarrassed we are in fear that our behavior, how we look, or something we think might make us unlovable. If you are familiar with “A Course in Miracles” you know that the opposite of love is fear. We cannot feel love (or any positive emotions) when we are feeling fear. Fear is the lowest vibrational feeling and can actually bring the things we fear into our experiences. This happens because what we focus upon magnifies. This is the Law of Attraction at work.

The Law of Attraction dictates, “like attracts like”. That is, our thoughts create other similar thoughts, which create similar feelings. Those feelings will bring experiences into our lives that support our feelings. If you are feeling loving thoughts, the Law of Attraction will bring you experiences that make you feel even more loved. The inverse is also true. When we are having fearful thoughts, the Law of Attraction will bring us experiences that make us feel even more fearful.

Embarrassment is a fear based thought. How we process embarrassment can differ depending upon who we are with when we feel embarrassed. When we get embarrassed in our personal lives among people we love and who love us, we often rely on the depth of the relationship to help us bridge the awkwardness and get over the embarrassment. Our friends and family usually assure us we are human and may work to help normalize whatever caused the embarrassment.

When we experience embarrassment at work it can be more complicated because of the inherent power differential in the work place. The hierarchy that is in place can quickly activate a fear response in addition to the feelings embarrassment brings. We might be in fear of being forced to change positions within the hierarchy, fear losing respect among our co-workers and supervisors, or even fear losing our jobs all together.

How can we deal with embarrassment at work?

Many of these ideas could also be applied or modified to dealing with embarrassment in both in your personal life and work life.

For example, a run in your nylons or wearing two of the same style shoes in two different colors (yes, both happen to be some of my personal experiences) can be a relatively minor embarrassment. Accidentally sleeping in and being late for work or forgetting a project (also, my personal experiences) can feel major. We can deal with a major embarrassment or a minor embarrassment in similar ways but our demeanor will often be different. A minor embarrassment may result in us laughing about our actions while a major embarrassment can have us curled up in a corner looking to lash out. All of these steps work for both major and minor embarrassments.

Offer an apology, if appropriate 

When you make a big mistake or do something really silly, offering an apology is the best course of action. Four things happen when you apologize.

  1. The person (or people) you are apologizing can begin to understand you know that you made a mistake and are working to fix it or make amends. This is very important because it helps protect the respect you have earned. Apologizing isn’t always easy when we’ve made a mistake but it is vital to preserving positive relationships. Often when we apologize we can see a softening that begins within the other person. You may have to still make amends in some way, but this is where the process begins.
    • Here is an example. One day in 2001, (this was a big enough deal I still remember it!) I was late to school (I am a teacher), I profusely apologized to everyone affected including both of my principals, head of school, and other teachers who had to cover for me. They all had a good laugh when about a week later I learned I was pregnant, which was the reason for my sleepiness. But the day I was late, I was met with coolness and even anger. When I apologized and acknowledged how my being late affected those people, and thanked them for covering for me they began to soften. It opened up a dialogue and helped to deepen and heal the relationships.
  2. The person you apologize to sees your humanity and vulnerability. This can deepen relationships. Sometimes, we want to appear perfect. When we know another person is willing to embrace imperfection, it makes it easier to embrace our own imperfections. Sometimes in your apology, the other person may even share an experience they had that was similar.
  3. You often begin to forgive yourself. More on this later.
  4. Talking about the embarrassing event is therapeutic. In fact, it’s so therapeutic it is the next suggestion.


Talk about what happened. 

By talking about what happened, you avoid shame. Guilt about what happened may be an appropriate response because it can help us modify our behavior so we don’t repeat what happened. Shame is a deep fear that we aren’t good enough and that we are unworthy of love and belonging. Shame can erode a healthy self-esteem and cause other problems in our lives and relationships.

By talking about what happened, we keep the focus on our behavior or our actions rather than focusing on our own self-worth. Brene’ Brown says “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” It is important to wisely choose with whom you will share this experience.

Make a conscious choice to offer forgiveness to yourself. 

The moment you choose to extend forgiveness to yourself you experience a shift. God/The Universe/Source reacts to your willingness to forgive both yourself and others by conspiring to help you.

All it takes from you is willingness. You may have to make the choice to forgive more than once. In fact, you will have to make the choice to forgive more than once. Even if you don’t feel forgiveness in that moment, and you may not, by being willing to forgive you shift the energy and the process begins. Each day and each time you choose to forgive you are one step closer to being in the energy of forgiveness.

You can also use this strategy to forgive others.

Get back out there!

If you hide and avoid the people in front of whom you felt embarrassed, you will only begin to feel more and more self-conscious. It is by facing these people that you can begin to heal. You will see that the majority of the time, those people are not thinking about what you did to cause yourself embarrassment, they are thinking about something in their own lives after the event that caused you embarrassment.

I hope this serves you!! Feel free to comment and let me know if you have other tips for dealing with embarrassment.

Love and light,